How to orchestrate leadership transitions

Replacing the names on the door can be tricky for AEC firms. SPONSORED CONTENT

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December 16, 2014 |
Steven Burns

Photo: mapichai vie

Replacing the names on the door can be tricky for AEC firms.

“The architectural and engineering professions are rife with stories of leadership transition failure,” writes Edward Friedrichs, former CEO and president of Gensler, in a ZweigWhite blog post. “Successes are few and far between, requiring finesse and careful planning.”

If a firm is led by a team of leaders who share common values, there’s a greater chance of seamless and successful transition when there’s a vacancy. “It’s like a runner in a relay handing off the baton,” he continues. “I’ve seen more successes when a well-balanced leadership team is able to integrate one new leader at a time into the team.”

Friedrichs believes AEC leadership teams need several talents to be successful:

Creativity. Someone needs to drive innovation, usually a conceptual person less driven by detail or business acumen. 

Salesmanship. A salesman is constantly focused on the client’s needs and attuned to what it will take to improve the client’s business.

Management. Firms led by a strong creative are often lacking in tight management support and controls, migrating toward a successor who will maintain the status quo or simply manage things a little better. To be successful, both manager and creative are needed, and each must honor and respect what the other brings.

Business acumen. Some people are just better at knowing how to make money. They tend also to be prudent about spending money, assuring the firm has the resources in facilities, tools and equipment to provide great service without gold-plating it.

“I’ve never seen a single individual who embodies all of these talents in a balanced and effective fashion,” he writes. “In fact, the most successful models encourage creative conflict between them. Each person advocates strongly for his or her point of view, but each accepts that the other’s focus and point of view is necessary. They challenge each other until they achieve a balanced approach to everything they do.”

Read more from the ZweigWhite blog.

Steven Burns | The Business Behind Design

Steven Burns, FAIA spent 14 years managing the firm Burns + Beyerl Architects, and during that time the firm’s earnings grew at an average rate of 24% per year. After founding his own software company, Steve took his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is refining their business strategy and product development for the company’s groundbreaking project accounting solution, BQE Core.

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